The winter months have always been a time for storytelling. People have gathered around fires and shared stories; in the cold, dark months when the fields were fallow and the animals hibernated. It is in this vein which I chose to tell “A Visit From Saint Nicholas”. Originally the holiday poem was published anonymounsly, but later claimed by scholar Clement Clarke Moore. A religious man and professor of oriental and Greek literture, the poem was composed to be recited for Moore’s children on Christmas Eve. The sing-song melody makes the poem very pleasant on the ear, and easier for memorization.
“written in rhyming anapests, a meter ideally suited to the subject. The vivid descriptions, especially of St. Nicholas and his reindeer, remain with the reader long after the poem has been read or heard. Here is sheer delight, for Moore was interested in entertaining his children, not in preaching to them. The eight tiny reindeer have been given names that trip on the tongue” (2015, Poetry Foundation).
Process and Preparation
Since both my past performances included heavily edited storytelling, I decided to recite poetry this time. At first I thought of learning and memorizing a favourite poem, like “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe; the timeframe which this assignemnt would be due did not calculate for enough time. So I started thinnking about all the different poems I had recited for school as a kid, or had read so many times it was practially memorized…most were too short in legnth, by A Visit From St. Nicholas stood out. It was then I did the research and found my intuition to be correct: it is a lovely poem, enjoyed by people of all ages, and has been performed many times over.
From color cartoons, claymation, adaptations and famous recordings, there are an incredible number of variations on the original imagery. For example, before the publishing of A Visit, Santa was known to only have one horse or reindeer which pulled his sled; Moore described, and named, the eight reindeer which is best known today…although Rudolph was added roughly 100 years later. The imagery of Santa was also forever unified as the many different winter elves became the modern Santa Claus; with the exception of Saint Nicholas, of course. One of the better known recitation of A Visit still is the recording by Perry Como in 1953; it was released as a single and appeared on his 1953 EP, Around The Christmas Tree, with original music by Ray Charles.
I prepared for this performance by reciting the poem to my family, I listened and watched videos over and over. Youtube was an excellent research tool for finding various recitations/performances of this seasonal favourite. It was more difficult to find live tellings, as most seemed to be audio recordings, which meant I had to create my own gestures and physicality for the performance. So I decied while practicing I would imagine the audience were hard of hearing, so I pantomined several of the stanzas such as when describing the appearance of Saint Nicholas.
While this was not the longest poem, nor performance my best, I found the research and telling to be memorable. The poetry transformed my attitude this season, as I usually do not enjoy the holidays. But this poem has a magic to it, that captures the imagination of it’s listeners and readers, reminding us of the innocense of anitcipation we all experience at this time of year. Nostalgia with memories, either bittersweet or fond, a good poem emotionally connects the audience and teller; which this poem always does.
Poetry Foundation. (2015). Biography of Clement Clarke Moore. Retrieved 12/01/2015 from http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/clement-clarke-moore
Oster, Grant. (December 24, 2012). A Visit from St. Nicholas. Retieved 12/01/2015 from http://hankeringforhistory.com/a-visit-from-st-nicholas/
A Visit From Saint Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore
‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;
The children were nestled all snug in their beds;
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads;
And mamma in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
Had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap,
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow,
Gave a lustre of midday to objects below,
When what to my wondering eyes did appear,
But a miniature sleigh and eight tiny rein-deer,
With a little old driver so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment he must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles his coursers they came,
And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name:
“Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now dash away! dash away! dash away all!”
As leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky;
So up to the housetop the coursers they flew
With the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too—
And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.
He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
And his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot;
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
And he looked like a pedler just opening his pack.
His eyes—how they twinkled! his dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
And the beard on his chin was as white as the snow;
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke, it encircled his head like a wreath;
He had a broad face and a little round belly
That shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.
He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
And I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself;
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread;
He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
And filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk,
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
And giving a nod, up the chimney he rose;
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight—
“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”